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Undocumentedness: Theater, Experimental Performance, and New Media
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Undocumentedness: Theater, Experimental Performance, and New Media – Resource Guide

Christopher Goodson, PhD
Instructor – Theater History
Cornish College of the Arts

This resource guide offers materials to educators, students, and researchers that relate to undocumented immigration’s intersection with theater, performance, and new media in the United States. The links and articles here are curated from across a spectrum that ranges from stage plays that negotiate issues of undocumentedness, theatrical companies producing new work, as well as performative projects that operate within the genres of installed art, experimental video, immigrant testimony, political protest, feature films, and narrative web series. Additionally, the current political movement of undocumented youth in the US is viewed here as an inherently performative practice, one that depends on public representations and visibility to enhance the movement’s effectiveness. Key articles from the fields of anthropology, sociology, as well as theater and art criticism are included here so that the user may better understand the socio-political, cultural, and economic issues that relate to undocumented immigration. Please consider adding resources from your own college, art institution, or local community.

Christopher Goodson holds a PhD in Theater History, Theory, and Criticism from the University of Washington’s School of Drama. As a host committee member of the Latinx Theatre Commons steering committee convening in Seattle (April 2016), Christopher has presented on the history of Latinx Theatre in the Pacific Northwest as well as the Seattle-based work of Maria Irene Fornés. Christopher’s recent doctoral research investigated contemporary performance practices that collaborate with undocumented communities. He currently teaches Theatre History at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington.


The following readings are meant to provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the economic, socio-political, legislative, and historical factors that have both impacted and continue to define undocumented immigration in the United States. Undocumented immigrants (often referred to as “illegal immigrants”) are routinely criminalized and homogenized in mainstream discourse, which rarely provides a nuanced examination of the issues at hand, including the legislative construction (and racialization) of the “illegal immigrant” (Ngai), or the function of undocumentedness within current regimes of globalized neoliberalism both within and beyond the borders of the US (Gutiérrez).

By engaging with the following texts, the reader comes to understand key aspects of the issue: factors leading to undocumented immigration, global remittance trends, health, gender, and sexuality (Lorentzen), how biopolitics and the governance of the body determines the existential state of Latinx youth (Gonzales and Chavez), how legislative regimes within the US constitute a form “legal violence” wielded against undocumented immigrants who have sought refuge from political violence in their countries of origin (Menjívar), contemporary statistics related to undocumented immigration (Passel & Cohn; US Congressional Budget Office), and how the performative nature of media spectacles conspire to control the debate (Chavez). These readings are meant to enhance the reader’s examination of the ever-growing number of performative projects curated below that seek to mediate one of the most significant social issues of our time.


Hidden Lives and Human Rights in the United States: Understanding the Controversies and Tragedies of Undocumented Immigration Ed. Lois Ann Lorentzen (2015)

The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation by Leo R. Chavez (2013)

Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America by Mae Ngai (2005)

Immigration Law and the US-Mexico Border: ¿Sí Se Puede? By Kevin R. Johnson & Bernard Trujillo (2011)

Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary by Joseph Nevins (2002)


The following articles related to undocumented immigration are available through most institutional libraries and online databases (JSTOR, Project Muse, etc.). To request a pdf file of any of the articles below, please contact Kareem Khubchandani at

“‘Awakening to a Nightmare’ Abjectivity and Illegality in the Lives of Undocumented 1.5- Generation Latino Immigrants in the United States” by Roberto G. Gonzales and Leo R. Chavez. Current Anthropology, Vol 53, No. 3 (June 2012), pp. 255-281: PDF

“The ‘New Normal’? Reflections on the Shifting Politics of the Immigration Debate” by David G. Gutiérrez. International Labor and Working-Class History, No. 78 (Fall 2010), pp. 118-122: PDF

“Central American immigrant workers and legal violence in Phoenix, Arizona” by Cecilia Menjívar. Latino Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, (2013), pp. 228-252: PDF

“The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments,” United States Congressional Budget Office (2007): PDF

“Death at the Border: Efficacy and Unintended Consequences of US Immigration Control Policy” by Wayne A. Cornelius. Population and Development Review. 27.4 (2001): 661-685: PDF

“Size of U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Workforce Stable After the Great Recession,” by Jeffrey Passel & D’Vera Cohn. PEW Research Center: Hispanic Trends

"A playwright responds to DACA cut by making 'Just Like Us' free," by Nelson Pressley. The Washington Post: Arts and Entertainment



Photo: Los Illegals by Michael John Garcés (2007)


The stage plays in the following section reflect the ever-growing interest of contemporary playwrights who seek to explore the myriad conditions related to undocumentedness in live, theatrical performance. The plays range across a variety of genres and therefore negotiate undocumentedness in distinct ways. Whether these scripts come from Pulitzer Prize-nominated authors (Lydia) or writers who are just beginning to explore the medium of theater (Esperando is Waiting), the list curated here is intended to give the reader a sense of the breadth of what has recently been produced, and to provoke questions related to the importance of theatrical representations that attempt to make undocumentedness visible. Additionally, the suggested readings are intended to provide examples of how scholars (Guterman) and scholar/artists (Marin) have recently examined the complex nature of producing these works.

The play scripts are included here with the express permission by the author/publisher, and are for educational and research purposes only. Any interest in production by any party must contact the author/publisher and abide by laws pertaining to royalties and copyright protections.

Exercise/Questions: Read a selection of the following plays and compare the different dramaturgical approaches to the subject: How do representations of undocumentedness function across the lines of Solo Performance/Testimony (La Vida Loca), Musical (Maricopa), Adaptation (Don Quixote: Homeless in Seattle, Los Illegals), Poetic Realism (Lydia), Docu-Drama (The Women of Juárez), Memory Play (Esperando is Waiting), etc.? How do the depictions of undocumentedness differ? What is the outcome for the undocumented characters? What is revealed about the nature of undocumentedness by the characterizations or the events in the play? Further, in what ways can theatrical performance function as a platform for claims for justice, activism, visibility, and community-building?

PDF Play Scripts:

Deporting the Divas by Guillermo Reyes (1996) PDF

American Sueño by Rebecca Martinez and Dañel Malán (2010): Permission Pending

Los Illegals by Michael John Garcés (2006): PDF | Also - Duke UP

La Vida Loca by Carlos Manuel (2005): PDF

Esperando is Waiting by Veronica Cedillo (2017): PDF

El Niño Dios Viene ‘Pal Norte by Cesar I. Ortega Pérez (2015): PDF

The Women of Juárez by Rubén Amavizca Murúa (2006): [English and Spanish versions]: PDF

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle by Rose Cano (2014): PDF

Maricopa by Jorge Avila (2015): [English and Spanish Versions]: PDF

PDF Play Scripts/Companies:

Detained in the Desert and other Play by Josefina Lopez (2011)

No Roosters in the Desert by Kara Hartzler (2010 – commissioned by Borderlands Theater)

Lydia by Octavio Solis (2008)

Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras (Day Laborer Theater Without Borders) – Los Angeles, CA.

SEE ALSO: TJSF profile on Hemispheric Institute: (w/Additional Videos)

Borderlands Theater – Tucson, AZ

Readings Regarding Stage Plays:

Undocumented Stories Have Always Mattered: A Conversation with Alex Alpharaoh, David Lozano, and Karen Zacarías. HowlRound. October 15, 2017.

Performance, Identity, and Immigration Law: A Theatre of Undocumentedness by Gad Guterman (2014)

Book Review of Performance, Identity and Immigration Law by Christopher Goodson (2015): PDF

NY Times Theater Blog post by Kara Hartzler

"Echoes of Injustice: Performative Activism and the Femicide Plaguing Ciudad Juárez" by Christina Marin, in Taking Risks: Feminist Activism and Research in the Americas, edited by Julie Shayne and Margaret Randall (State University of New York Press, 2014), pp. 181–208. {Click on PDF link in the following link.)

“Memories on the Border,” An Interview with the playwright Octavio Solis by Elaine Romero. American Theater. (December 2008): PDF



Photo: Maria TV by Rodrigo Valenzuela (2014)


The performance projects in the following section range from studio-devised experimental videos to musical acts and short films. Outside the bounds of traditional “theater,” these projects sometimes operate within the informal cash economy, hiring day labor and immigrant performers to explore their own subjectivity at the hands of a guiding artist (Pulpo/Octopus, Maria TV, Work Like a Dog). This practice is in line with what art critic Claire Bishop defines as “delegated performance,” wherein amateur performers are hired to provide the embodied material in service of a greater artistic vision (Bishop). Other projects operate along the lines of virtual reality (Zietchik), border crossing reenactment (Underiner), and day laborers as paid political protestors (Newman, et al.). The readings and links at the end of the section are suggested to enhance the reader’s understanding of the complex social, legal, personal, and psychological realities that relate to the paradigms of day labor and domestic work, industries that deeply intersect with undocumented immigration.

Exercises / Questions:

Watch a selection of the performances along with the suggested readings. What does Bishop mean by “delegated performance”? How does it differ from the performance art traditions of the 60s and 70s? What are the possible stakes for different communities when contracted by an artist for “delegated performance?” For what reasons do any of the performances below seem to challenge, or exist outside of, Bishop’s paradigm?

Choose two of the clips below for comparison. How do the aesthetics of the performances differ? What is the overall effect of the video on the viewer? What does the artist’s and/or producer’s intention seem to be? Who seems to be the intended audience? In what ways do the practices of immigrant workers as paid performers (Pulpo/Octopus), the tourism industry (Underiner), or museum/gallery installation (Maria TV, Work Like a Dog, Iñarritu’s VR project) complicate any altruistic intentions behind the work?


Bishop, Claire. “Delegated Performance: Outsourcing Authenticity.” October, vol. 140, 2012, pp. 91–112. PDF

Underiner, Tamara. “Playing at Border Crossing in a Mexican Indigenous Community . . . Seriously.” TDR: The Drama Review 55:2 (T210) Summer 2011. PDF

Jewish Group, With Hired Protestors, Opposes the Parade,” by Andy Newman, James Estrin, and Colleen Wright, New York Times, June 28, 2015.

Links to Performance:

Cannes 2017: Alejandro Iñárritu's virtual reality project takes film to new frontiers—and questions,” by Steven Zeitchik (2017)

Maria TV by Rodrigo Valenzuela (2014) | Reading: “Who Are the 15 Seattle Housemaids Starring in Maria TV?” by Jen Graves.

Diamondbox by Rodrigo Valenzuela (2012)

Pulpo/Octopus by Yoshua Okón (2010) | “Yoshua Okón at the Hammer Museum,” by Catherine Wagely

Day Labor by Brendan Kohl (2009)

Los Jornaleros del Norte (The Day Laborer Band) – Los Angeles, CA


Photo: Work Like a Dog by Meiro Koizumi (2009)


Work Like a Dog by Meiro Koizumi (2009)

Additional Readings/Resources:

Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the United States by Juan Thomas Ordóñez (2015)

NDLON (National Day Labor Organizing Network)

Doméstica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette (2001)

National Domestic Workers Alliance



Photo: Undocumented Tales by Armando Ibanez


The links in the following section take the user to narrative films (A Better Life, Lone Star, El Norte), documentary films (La Bestia, Maid in America), and web-based series that explore undocumented immigration and its intersection with family structures, labor systems, and sexuality, among other issues (Undocumented Tales).

In what aesthetic and/or structural ways do these filmic projects below differ? For instance, what kinds of narratives are presented, and in what ways? By whom are the narratives constructed? For instance, examine two of the interviews below (Weitz, Prado) or seek out other filmmaker interviews online to compare and contrast the differing filmmaker biographies and goals. Pairing Weitz’s interview with Prado’s, how can we open up conversations about authorship, artistic intention, economic resources, and performer agency? Alternately, how does a project like Undocumented Tales blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction? How do the varying narratives found within the films either reinforce and/or challenge the sociological information found in the readings of the first section of this resource guide? (See Gonzales & Chavez, Menjívar, Cornelius, etc.)

Undocumented Tales by Armando Ibanez (2016) | Aramando Ibanez YouTube testimony

A Better Life directed by Chris Weitz (2011) | Interview: PopMatters interview with Chris Weitz

La Bestia (The Beast) directed by Pedro Ultreras (2010)

Maid in America directed by Anayansi Prado (2004) | Interview: PBS interview with Maid in America Director Anayansi Prado

Lone Star directed by John Sayles (1996)

El Norte directed by Gregory Nava (1983)


The resources curated in the following section (academic articles, web-based readings, video links, interactive media projects, instances of activism, and public ceremonies) all engage performatively with the issues surrounding the United States’ current situation with undocumented immigration. The visibility and divisiveness of this issue has become more public recently, especially with the election of President Donald Trump, whose campaign rhetoric vilified undocumented immigrants (see RNC 2016 video), and who has now decided to phase out former President Barack Obama’s executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA (see Obama Remarks 2012), which protected qualifying undocumented immigrants with deportation deferral.

In order that the guide user becomes familiar with arguments of varying perspective (and mediatization), links provided here profile both anti-undocumented immigrant media (Fox News, Breitbart, RNC 2016) and media that supports the diverse voices within undocumented communities (Define American, Fotohistorias, UndocuMedia).


Examine the language and/or rhetoric employed in the varying media sources below. For instance, in what critical ways does the narrative and/or point of view differ between platforms such as The O’Reilly Factor and DefineAmerican? How are the videos and/or images presented? Who participates and under what circumstances? Whose voices come across? What, if any, of the finer points of the debate surrounding undocumented immigration are addressed? What can open comment threads on sites such as Breitbart tell us about perspectives we may not share or are not familiar with?

Define American: Culture organization founded by Jose Antonio Vargas that uses the “power of story” to shift the conversation about immigration:

  • Video: “Jose Antonio Vargas Talks to Bill O’Reilly,” Fox News 2012
  • Reading: “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” by Jose Antonio Vargas, New York Times, June 22, 2011.

Republican National Convention (2016): “Family of People Killed by Undocumented Immigrants Speak Out at RNC,” By Jessica Hopper, ABC News, July 18, 2016

Barack Obama’s DACA Statement: “Remarks by the President,” by Barack Obama, White House Archives, June 15, 2012

UndocuMedia: Digital and social media empowering undocumented communities


Photo: Fotohistorias (2017)


Fotohistorias: Participatory Photography Experiment with Migrants in Seattle, Mexico, and Columbia (2017)

6: Undocu Youth Movement: Activism, Performance, and Visibility

The resource guide’s final section is dedicated to the undocumented youth movement. Undocumented youth, whose right to public education through high school is protected by US Law, have historically gone through a process of “Learning to Be Illegal” after their high school graduations (Gonzales 2011). Undocumented youth activism, including actions surrounding the DREAM Act (first introduced in 2001), has operated via performative representations that seek to make the debate public (see Bennion 201, Kohli, et al. 2017, Corrunker 2012). Scholars like Walter J. Nicholls have argued that undocumented youth occupy a particular “niche opening” where their public voices can be successfully crafted and where a “demonstration of their humanity” can occur (Nicholls 2013). The visibility of the undocumented youth movement is a key consideration in this resource guide.

Regarding the current debate surrounding undocumented youth: What are some of the particular challenges that undocumented youth experience that their citizen fellow students do not? (see Gonzales 2011 and Corrunker 2012). What are the varying strategies that undocumented youth employ to make their voices heard? In what ways does the liveness of protest abet and/or disrupt social-media-driven narratives?


Photo: Undocu-Graduation 2016 by the WA DREAM Coalition (Seattle)



DACA brought 'Dreamers' out of the shadows. Now, some plan to only get louder,” by Sonali Kohli, Cindy Carcamo, and Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2017

45,000 Illegals Using DACA Backdoor to Get Green Cards by Neil Munro, Breitbart, September 1, 2017

Undocumented graduates celebrate at first annual Beyond Borders ceremony” by Avery Peterson (2015)

2 Valedictorians in Texas Declare Undocumented Status, and Outrage Ensues,” by Katie Rogers (2016)

Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)” United States Department of Homeland Security

DREAM Act 21 arrested on Capitol Hill” by David Bennion (2010)


Photo: DREAM Act 21 arrested on Capitol Hill (2010)


“Coming Out of the Shadows: DREAM Act Activism in the Context of Global Anti-Deportation Activism” by Laura Corrunker (2012): PDF

“Learning to be Illegal: Undocumented Youth and Shifting Legal Contexts in the Transition to Adulthood” by Roberto G. Gonzales (2011): PDF

“The Performance of Citizenship and Anti-Ritual in the Undocu-Graduation 2015” by Christopher Goodson (2017): Pending

Links to Books:

The DREAMers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate by Walter J. Nicholls (2013)

Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation's Fight for Their American Dream by Eileen Truax (2015)

We ARE Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream by William Perez (2009)

Student Activist Groups and/or Campus-based Initiatives

The following section seeks to organize undocumented youth movements and campus-based initiatives across the US. If your campus supports undocumented students with official web-based resources, or if you are involved in an extra-institutional group, you are encouraged to contact ATHE so that your link can be included here.

Leadership Without Borders (University of Washington, Seattle)

Washington Dream Coalition: Grassroots Organization of Undocumented Youth in WA State

Freedom University: Atlanta-based organization providing tuition-free education to undocumented students

United We Dream: Largest immigrant youth-led organization in the US

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